CS009: Computers and Human Values
Department of Computer Science, Brown University
Notes, October 26th -- Roger B. Blumberg

Lippmann I: Public Opinion and its Problems

Introduction: Conclusions from Cherny

We didn't quite finish discussing The Next Deal last time, and one set of questions we should probably raise, in preparation for both Lippmann and Sunstein, concerns the role, power and consequences of technology (which includes the mass media) in the politics of any given (modern) age.

Just about a year ago, as the Presidential Primary season was underway, the New York Times carried an op-ed by David Brooks -- Brooks is the newest regular columnist at the Times and a senior editor at the Weekly Standard. In the second paragraph of his column, "Rescuing the Democrats" he writes:

In Franklin Roosevelt's administration, 49 percent of voters said they were Democrats. But that number has been dropping ever since, and now roughly 32 percent of voters say they are. As Mark Penn, a former Clinton pollster, has observed, "In terms of the percentage of voters who identify themselves as Democrats, the Democratic Party is currently in its weakest position since the dawn of the New Deal."
He then goes on to talk about the various Democratic candidates for President, their theories about this drop in the popularity of the Party, and the issue of how Democrats can/should "figure out Middle American values." Consider a few questions:

Public Opinion, Parts 1-4

In Walter Lippmann's Public Opinion, written in 1922, we find a provocative challenge to our attitudes about what we can and should expect from popular judgement in the realm of politics, and thus to our expectations for democracy. As with our reading of the passages from de Toqueville, we can ask with nearly every page of Lippmann:

We'll go Part by Part through Public Opinion, with presentations and discussions lead by members of the Seminar. As a further introduction, however, and because the reading assignment was rather long, let's start by listing some of the idea/concepts/phrases you thought especially important in parts 1-4. Lippmann's idea of the "pseudo-environment" is one example; did you find others?

For Next Time:: Papers are due by midnight tonight. Read parts 5 and 6 of Public Opinion for Thursday.

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